Bullying 101

BullyingI remember it clearly.  A kid at school (lets call him Ryan) had been antagonizing me all year.  One afternoon, I was sitting down, minding my own business, when suddenly he came over and spit right in my ear!  I was too dumbfounded to do anything, and Ryan went away laughing.  I stewed over the humiliating experience all day and all night.  The next day, when I bumped into Ryan, I unleashed a torrent of verbal punches that visibly cut him down and hurt him immensely.  It was way too much.

Decades have passed since that event, but I still look for Ryan on Facebook.  I want to let him know I’m sorry for that incident so many years ago.  He was never the same kid after that, and I know my actions may have had something to do with that.

We all have stories like this, don’t we?  Maybe you acted as the bully.  Or maybe you were the one being bullied.  Either way, those incidents of mistreatment have a profound effect on our lives.  As parents, it is impossible to protect our teens from bullies at all times.  But we can prepare them.  We can give our kids the tools to guard their hearts and minds from the damage of bullying, and help others do the same.  But first, we have to learn a little bit more about the problem.

Who is the Bully?

Boys and girls are inherently different, and this is clearly evident in the way they intimidate others.  Girls tend to inflict pain on an emotional and psychological level.  It happens when they exclude victims by freezing them out of the lunchroom seating arrangements, ignoring them on the playground, or shunning them when party invitations are handed out.

Boys aren’t as subtle when it comes to bullying.  Guys are more prone to insult their victims on the playground than ignore them.  Instead of isolating a non-athletic victim during a gym class dodge ball game, they might take relentless aim and target the child.  They tend to physically harass and intimidate others through displays of strength and superiority.

Male or female, bullies act as predators.  They focus on a weakness they see in others, and exploit it for the most damage.  When they see someone with their head down, shoulders slouched, and looking apprehensive, bullies are likely to go in for the kill.  I have found that a good technique to thwart the attacks of a bully is similar to fending off bears and mountain lions.  I tell my teens to stand tall, walk with confidence, and look people in the eyes when you speak.  These subtle, physical signs tell bullies that you are not a weak target.

Relationship and Communication

A good way to prepare our teens for the bullies they face is to instill confidence in the home.  Parents need to consistently demonstrate that their child is valued and loved.  Mom and Dad, there is no better way to prepare your child for bullies than to maintain a good relationship and keep the conversation going.  Honest communication is powerful.  Once teens get talking about the emotions that have built up inside of them, it helps them release negative feelings.  Set aside an afternoon every week to sit and talk with your teen.  Ask your son or daughter, Have you ever been bullied?  How did you respond?  How did you get over it?  Knowing that someone is listening and cares makes your teen feel valued and protected.

Stop the Bystander

Cracking down on the victimizers or teaching victims to stand up for themselves is not going to stop bullying in the long run.  The only way to end the bully epidemic is to stop the bystander.  Eighty-five percent of bullying takes place in front of other people.  Bullies are performing for an audience.  When others sit back and watch someone receive unjust treatment, it only fuels the bully’s compulsion to show off for their friends.  But according to a study by The Family Resource Facilitation Program, bullying stops in less than ten seconds when someone intervenes. 

Even if your child is not bullying others or being bullied, it is crucial we explain the importance of taking a stand.  Reward and praise your kids when they speak up for someone in need.  Model the courage needed to look out for those who are being abused.  Tell them stories you hear about people supporting victims.  Helping your teen develop a strong conviction against bullying is the best way to combat this growing problem in our schools.

Care for the Bullies

When looking for someone to blame, we often put the spotlight on the bully.  But in reality, the bully is often the one who needs our help.  Intimidation is a learned trait.  A child who is victimizing another child most likely had the same thing done to him or her.  They are living out what they have learned.  Many Heartlight students have told me that they had to bully others just to survive.

Bullies need our love and encouragement.  While we do not condone their behavior, we should seek to understand what is behind their actions.  If your teen is terrorizing other kids, don’t react by blowing up.  Ask them if the same thing was done to them, and then show how their actions are causing pain.  Many times bullies do not realize how much damage they are doing.  Once confronted, they usually express remorse.  Let’s be sure to love the bullied and the bully together.

Let’s face it.  Kids are not the only ones who deal with insensitive people.  Who hasn’t encountered a bully on the freeway, in the office, or in line at the grocery store?  We are hassled by aggressive and unpleasant people even as adults.  There’s never been a better time than right now to give your child the tools they need to prepare for a world of bullies.  It’s a lesson they will carry with them through life.

*Name has been changed


Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in Hallsville, Texas.  For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our website.  It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent.  Go to www.heartlightministries.org.  Or read other helpful articles by Mark, at www.markgregston.com.  You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.  Hear the Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast on a radio station near you, or download the podcast at www.parentingtodaysteens.org.


Bully Education


We always want to protect our children.  But, as every parent knows, there are people in life who find ways to hurt others.  The answer isn’t to lock our kids up until they’re 35—it’s to prepare them!  That’s the focus of this Parenting Today’s Teens with Mark Gregston.

Special Guest: Paul Coughlin

The Wrong Crowd

Dad's BlessingIn school, kids are always trying to fit in with the crowd. Everyone goes through that and feels peer pressure from that. I know I did when I was growing up. I definitely wanted to hang out with the cool kids and tried to be something I’m not.”  ~Joe Jonas

There is a group of kids that parents fear most.  Moms and dads spend a great deal of time and energy cautioning their kids against this motley band of miscreants.  It’s most commonly referred to as “the wrong crowd.”  The group is usually made up of the kids who smoke the things they shouldn’t, boast about sexual conquests, bully others, or get involved in other harmful or destructive behaviors.  These are the kids that you warn your children to avoid at all costs.

Now, I don’t enjoy being the bearer of bad news, but the truth is this “wrong crowd” is inescapable.  I have listened to parents who believe that taking their kids out of public school, or moving to the country, or limiting social interaction will protect their family from the dangers of bad influences.  But that’s just not the case.  Christian schools have the “wrong crowd” as well.  So do rural areas.  The fact is, there will always be peers and friends who steer your children down the wrong path.

Since stopping all interaction with all negative influences is impossible, perhaps it’s time to change our strategy.  As parents, how can we make sure our kids don’t assimilate into the wrong crowd?  Or how can we help our teen who maybe is the wrong crowd?

Turn the Tables

I’ve spent 38 years hanging out with the wrong crowd.  Every one of the twenty-five hundred kids who have stepped through the doors of the Heartlight campus are what most people consider the “bad kids.”  But frankly, while I have dealt with teens who have battled serious issues, I have yet to meet a bad kid.  There is no such thing as a teenager who is beyond hope.  Even those kids who make up the wrong crowd can turn their lives around with the right motivation.  In fact, the teens that lead the pack are often highly charismatic, intelligent, and have great leadership skills.  Unfortunately, these amazing gifts are misapplied, which leads to the “wrong crowd” mentality and destructive behaviors.  Yes, troubled teens can unduly influence others, but that influence can be turned around and redeemed.

Instead of looking at the teen across the street as a perpetual troublemaker worth avoiding, view that troubled kid as a mission field.  Perhaps the reason God placed you in that specific neighborhood is so that you could be an influence on that particular young man or woman.  Or maybe that sketchy friend your son or daughter is hanging around with needs you to be a voice of reason and righteousness in their lives.  Jesus told us that if we see one lamb has gone missing, we’re to leave the others in the pen and go after the lamb that was lost (Luke 15:1-3).  God is passionately involved in going after the “lost,” and so should we.  Instead of fearing and avoiding those “dangerous” kids, let’s take the opportunity to reach out to the kids who may need our help.  You can flip the tables, so to speak, and begin to influence them.  If your teen has friends who are part of the “wrong crowd” who are lost and looking for direction, it’s a great chance to give them the direction they are looking for.

Lead, Don’t Follow

We can also help our kids avoid the traps of falling in with the wrong crowd by teaching them to lead, and not follow.  What teenagers crave more than anything is a sense of acceptance.  They want to feel validated and appreciated.  And when they find that in a particular group, they tend to stay in that group.  Unfortunately, there may be a price to be paid for joining certain cliques or crowds.  As my friend Paul Coughlin says, “cruelty is currency” in today’s youth culture.  Many of the groups roaming the halls at school or hanging out at the local skate park operate on the basis of bullying.  It’s a form of power that allows them to buy popularity.

Teaching our kids to stand out from the pack and stand up for others goes a long way in preventing our kids from becoming part of the wrong crowd.  I have written about the dangers of bullying in other articles [Recognizing and Preventing “Mean Girls”], but there are also hazards of allowing bullying to happen.  Recent studies by the American Psychology Association reveal that passive witnesses of bullying or cruelty show a sharp decrease in empathy, have higher cases of depression, and perform poorly in school.*  Even if our children aren’t the tormentors, the impact of watching others being injured can still harm kids indirectly.

As parents, we can also help our children avoid following the wrong crowd by teaching the “hows” and “whys” of bad behavior.  It’s not enough to say, “The Bible says don’t do that.” It’s about engaging your teenager in a conversation of why they should stand up to bullies, how drugs can damage your health and future, why pre-martial sex is not a good idea, and how the principles of the Bible are written for our good.  Curiosity is a powerful drive, especially in teenagers.  They are interested in (and probably questioning) everything, as they attempt to understand how the world around them works.  And many times the forbidden fruit is often the sweetest—that action or behavior that other kids are doing but they aren’t allowed to participate in.  But if we take the time to explain why that seemingly delicious fruit is rotten and bad, we start taking the power out of following the wrong crowd.

We can’t escape the negative influences surrounding our kids.  There will always be a “wrong crowd” that will attempt to bring our teenagers down.  But by being active in positively influencing those kids and coaching our teenagers to lead and not follow, we can break the power of these enticing groups and break the fear that our children will be drawn into them.

*Observing Bullying at School: The Mental Health Implications of Witness Status 



Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in Hallsville, Texas.  For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our website.  It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent.  Go to www.heartlightministries.org.  Or read other helpful articles by Mark, at www.markgregston.com.  You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.  Hear the Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast on a radio station near you, or download the podcast at www.parentingtodaysteens.org.